The disability rights movement

The disability rights movement

Any person at any stage of life can acquire a disability. We live in an aging society. Disability is being diagnosed in an increasing number of babies and children. In fact, it is estimated that up to 25% of the population has some form of disability.

Life outcomes for people with disabilities are worse than for any other sector of society. This is evidenced in numerous government reports in terms of income, education, employment and social inclusion. Historically people with disabilities have been largely misunderstood and stereotyped; often deprived of liberty, opportunities, independence and rights; marginalised; pauperised; patronised and abused. It is time to give people with disabilities a new deal so that they can feel equally respected and fully participate in all aspects of life.

The Socialist Alliance recognises the Disability Rights Movement as an inspiring and centrally important liberation movement for minority rights. The Disability Rights Movement in Victoria has been in the forefront of raising issues and awareness; forging alliances; launching innovative actions and winning concrete gains, not just for people with disabilities but for the community as a whole.

Some of the gains fought for and won by the Victorian Disability Rights movement in the last 25 years are:

  • In the mid-1980s pressuring then Premier John Cain to stop a bullying “dwarf throwing” competition being planned in Victoria;
  • raising awareness of the Third World style exploitation of workers with disabilities in sheltered workshops and winning pay rises for factory workers at the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind;
  • exposure of archaic and segregating residential institutions and their replacement with community facilities;
  • raising awareness of electric shock therapy by removing such a machine from a psychiatric hospital and showing it to the public on the evening news;
  • joining forces with anarchist women and “raiding” Hampton CIB, which resulted in an order from the police commissioner for the removal of all sexist posters from Victorian police stations in 1987;
  • winning stop announcements on trains and platforms;
  • forcing the government to introduce public transport stops and vehicles that are partially or fully accessible to people in wheelchairs;
  • insisting on retaining accessible trains and stopping the spread of the segregating and inadequate Demand Responsive Bus service as a parallel “special bus” for people with disabilities, (the provision of the DRB was being used as the rationale for governments to dismantle more train services in Upfield and Alamein);
  • running the 24 hour pickets at St Kilda Railway Station in 1987, and enduring numerous arrests, in a bid to stop this service being downgraded to a less accessible light rail service;
  • joining forces with union and community groups to save tram conductors;
  • the ongoing campaign for an accessible tram stop on Bridge Rd outside the Epworth Hospital;
  • joining forces with women’s groups to finally end the patronising, sexist Spastic Society Miss Victoria Quest;
  • raising awareness of police brutality against young people with disabilities including those arrested at protests;
  • successful lobbying by families of people with disabilities for some increase in early intervention placements and respite services;
  • forcing the courts to construct a ramp into Prahran Magistrate’s Court, where people with disabilities were having their protest charges heard during the St Kilda — Port Melbourne light rail dispute;
  • forcing magistrates to acknowledge that people with disabilities can perform meaningful work by refusing to pay fines resulting from protests and insisting on being sentenced to perform meaningful community work;
  • causing a rethink on sexual equality issues, eg forced sterilisations, coercive pressures on young women with disabilities to undergo sterilisations;
  • attacking assumptions that sexual relationships are the preserve of able-bodied people;
  • attacking assumptions that bearing and bringing up children is the preserve of able bodied people.

The late Katie Ball was fighting maxi taxi services in the Equal Opportunities Court at the time that she passed away, in a bid to bring their response times and services up to the standard of regular taxi services.

The Socialist Alliance is guided in its understanding of the rights and equality of people with disabilities by socialist human rights principles and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The Socialist Alliance bases its policies concerning people with disabilities on this understanding, as well as the demands being put forward by disability rights activists and groups.

To this end the Socialist Alliance pledges to:

  1. Consult widely with groups and individuals in the Disability Rights Movement on policy and inclusiveness matters.
  2. Establish a Socialist Disability Rights email list open to both members and non-members, with the option of telephone or paper mail discussion, to facilitate involvement of people of all abilities.
  3. Publicly announce through its website, speeches and publications that the Socialist Alliance will make its policies and Green Left Weekly articles available in large print or audio format upon request.
  4. Strive to remove all barriers to the involvement of people with disabilities at all levels within the Socialist Alliance.
  5. Proactively offer assistance in travel arrangements and other forms of support to people with disabilities wishing to attend Socialist Alliance activities.
  6. Facilitate the formation of a Disability Rights caucus within the Socialist Alliance to advance the cause of people with disabilities within the Alliance and within society as a whole.
  7. Whenever the opportunity arises invite guest speakers from the Disability Rights Movement to address Socialist Alliance meetings, rallies and conferences.
  8. Conduct a meeting or speech in memory of the late disability rights activist and radical environmentalist Katie Ball and submit a write-up of her life for publication in Green Left Weekly
  9. Research more fully the historical struggles by people with disabilities to break down the barriers and advance their rights.
  10. Give regular coverage to Disability Rights issues and activists in Socialist Alliance publications including Green Left Weekly.
  11. Make abolition of the discriminatory rip-off “supported wages” clauses in industrial awards a major Socialist Alliance campaign (refer separate policy).
  12. Where the opportunity arises we will stand people with disabilities as election candidates, to help advance the cause of the rights and equality of people with disabilities.

Statement of regret

The Socialist Alliance regrets the fact that its resources are too limited to own and operate centrally located meeting spaces in many major centres which are accessible to people in wheelchairs, or to regularly hire such venues in city centres.

To meet the challenge of being inclusive of people with disabilities, the Socialist Alliance supports:

  • Government subsidies on the hiring of centrally located accessible meeting rooms with fully accessible toilet facilities. Due to the exorbitant costs of accessible venues which are close to convenient accessible public transport, such subsidies are needed so that small community organisations can realistically accommodate people in wheelchairs. Without such subsidies, many people with disabilities are effectively being denied their human right to participate in much of the social, cultural and political life of their community.
  • Government-funded public works to build accessible community meeting spaces with accessible toilets close to convenient accessible public transport, and to retrofit existing meeting spaces with accessible features. These public works to create meaningful, well paid jobs and to incorporate sustainable building design features.
  • Local councils should purchase safe light-weight portable wheelchair ramps to enable individuals and groups to better accommodate people with disabilities in community and social gatherings within their municipalities, both in people’s homes and in public places. This measure would provide partial accessibility for people in wheelchairs, although it would not resolve issues of accessible transport or toilet facilities. To offset this disadvantage, councils should additionally provide maps of all accessible public transport options (see separate Accessible Public Transport Policy) and accessible toilet facilities in local areas. Councils should build more accessible toilet facilities, keep these open 24 hours per day and keep these well maintained.

The Socialist Alliance pledges to investigate all options to increase the accessibility of its meetings, including telephone and Skype participation in meetings, keeping a register of affordable accessible meeting spaces and relocating its activities to such spaces whenever reasonably practicable.

The Socialist Alliance will investigate all options for hiring or purchasing safe light weight portable wheelchair ramps and support all lobbying and fundraising activities enabling community groups to acquire wheelchair ramps.

The Socialist Alliance will lead the way in inclusiveness by promoting the “statement of regret” as standard practice throughout the Labor Movement and Left: we advocate that, as standard practice, groups strive to accommodate people in wheelchairs at all gatherings. Groups should routinely advertise whether or not their gathering is accessible to people in wheelchairs. Should the gathering not be accessible to people in wheelchairs then publicity related to the event should contain a statement of regret, eg “we regret that this venue is not accessible to people in wheelchairs.” Such a statement would at least reassure people with disabilities that their participation is valued within Left.